It may be correct to say that of all those who were sworn-in on June 11 last year as members of the House of Representatives, only Dr Alex Egbona, the member representing Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency spent more time battling with his opponent both in various courts and in the field for a rerun election. But despite the distractions which lasted about a year, the deputy chairman, House Committee Chairman on Petroleum (Downstream) said in this interview, that he was still to fulfil some of his election campaign promises.
He said with the litigations over, his constituents should expect much more. He spoke with some journalists on his activities in the National Assembly during his first one year as a legislator. TNN was there.
On June 11 last year, about a year ago, you were sworn-in as member of the House of Representatives. How would you say the journey has been during this one year?
It has been a mixed grill. You may have been aware that my journey from the first day I was sworn-in, has been very hectic-from one court to the other, then back to the field for another round of election, and then back to the tribunal.
Let me refresh your mind, just in case you have forgotten. I was the only member of the APC in Cross River State to have won the general election that was conducted in February last year. The battle started from all fronts thereafter. There were serious plots by some persons to stop me from getting my certificate of return. When I eventually got it and was sworn-in, I was dragged before the election petition tribunal. The tribunal, in its wisdom, decided to nullify my election and victory was awarded to my opponent in a very questionable judgement. I proceeded to the court of appeal where that judgement was set aside but the results from two of the wards in my constituency were cancelled and a rerun ordered. It is a long story and whenever I remember all the things I went through, I sometimes feel like shedding tears. I was persecuted. I was mocked. Those who hated my guts went haywire, looking for anything and everything they could hold to bring me down. But the more they tried, the more I triumphed. Long story cut short, I won the rerun and got back my seat in the House of Representatives.
But my opponents were not tired. They refused to give up the fight. Before I could say Jack, I received a fresh notice of a petition. So, we went back to the tribunal. You can imagine what I went through. Rather than spend my time and money to address the development challenges of my people, I was rather spending more time on litigations and election. It took almost the entire legislative year.
I never believed that one person could be so hunted and tortured by political opponents. They set traps everywhere, but in the end, it ended in praise. I do not know of any member of the National Assembly that went through what I experienced. None, to my knowledge. About an entire legislative year was- spent on one case or the other. If I were a normal politician who only thought of himself, I would have had a very good excuse not to do anything for my people. But that was not the case. I can beat my chest and say that even with all the distractions, my people still had a very good taste of the dividends of democracy. For example, for the first time in the history of representation in my constituency, I have established a modern and model constituency office at Ugep, which will be commissioned soon. As soon as the lock down is totally relaxed and the borders open, the office will be formally open and put to use.
Besides, I also undertook the installation of solar-powered electricity in parts of the constituency, procured motorcycles, tricycles and sewing machines for selected members of the constituency which will be distributed after the COVID-19 lockdown and border closures; and for the first time also, I undertook a NEEDS Assessment tour of the constituency, where critical projects were identified and listed for execution in the federal budget.
Despite the oddities, I was still able to render financial assistance to scores of people from the constituency and beyond, provide hand sanitizers and other palliatives for our people at the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic, influenced NEMA to provide food and other relief materials for flood victims in Ekureku, where flood had ravaged thoroughly.
It is also on record that I raised a motion on the floor of the House, for an end to the communal crisis between Adadama in Abi LGA and the Amegu people in Ebonyi State, initiated a dialogue process for an end to the crisis between Ekureku people in Cross River and Abaomege people in Ebonyi State. This process is ongoing.
And also sponsored a bill for the establishment of the Abi Polytechnic. This bill has already passed through the second reading on the floor of the House. It is a long list. But that is the much I can remember off hand.
There are reports that the case at the tribunal after the rerun had been struck out. What really happened?
I am a firm believer in God. Yes, I am a politician but I have chosen to be different as a politician. I believe that all things work together for good, according to what the holy book says. I believe that what happened to me was to teach me some lessons in perseverance. I will tell this story very well very soon in a new book I am currently working on.
To answer your question directly, I believe God touched the heart of my main opponent for him to seek to withdraw the matter from the tribunal. But that was after so much time and money had also been spent. We were still on that matter when my lawyers informed me that my opponent had filed an application before the tribunal, seeking to pull out. I saw that action as an act of God and perhaps the cry of my constituents who were already tired of the various cases and had looked forward to an end to the travails I was being subjected to. The people knew that they were the ones at the losing end, for as long as the cases lingered. So, I understand that a lot of them took it upon themselves to fast and pray and also went the extra mile of sending emissaries to my opponent, urging him to drop the case.
At some point, it became a community matter. All thanks to my former boss, Senator Liyel Imoke, royal fathers, widows and orphans who mounted pressure on my opponent, and all thanks to my opponent, Hon, John Gaul Lebo, for accepting to listen to the voice of reason, the petition was withdrawn and the tribunal had no choice than to strike out the petition. So, as I won, John Gaul also won and all my people won.
A new chapter has opened and you have three more years. How will you spend the remaining three years?
You know what I do every day? I take a look at my election campaign brochure which I called My Pledge and I try to deliberately remind myself of what I promised the people. It is true that one year may have been wasted, but like Paul said in the holy book, I press toward the prize of the high calling. My eyes are on the goal post. I have since left the past and moved on with my dreams for the people. The remaining three years for me are years to wipe more tears from the eyes of people. There are bad roads to be fixed by the government. It is my duty to draw the federal government’s attention to it. A good number of the projects have already been identified and captured in the current budget. As you may know already, the National Assembly has begun the process of reviewing the budget in line with the current realities, as a result of COVID-19. So, at the end of the day, we will see which of the projects that have sailed through for the financial year and then we will follow-up accordingly to ensure that they are executed.
There are market women in my constituency that I promised to assist. Between now and the end of the year, I will interface with market women at the Ijiman market. I had promised to empower them during the first few months of my stay in the House. But the legal battles never allowed it to happen. I will need to have a session with these women and apologise to them for not keeping to that promise as and when due, and thereafter, fashion out a way forward. But that promise will be kept.
I intend to bless my people with what I call the post Covid-19 palliatives. The COVID-19 pandemic has really affected my people and my heart goes to them always. I will also hold a town hall meeting with my constituents to hear from them on their expectations ahead of the 2021 budget year, so that I can plan ahead and also ensure that my people get what they need, not just what I feel like doing for them.
What is your take on the rising cases of rape across the globe?
I feel sad, very sad, anytime I read newspapers or watch the TV and hear of rape cases. It is sad and saddening. I am yet to come to terms with the reasons why a man will want to rape the girl child. I think it smacks of low self-esteem for one to descent that low, to forcefully have carnal knowledge of a woman. I have read where a father would rape the daughter, where a boy would rape the sister or a relative. If it is not madness, I do not know what else to call such acts. So for me, rape is a highly condemnable act and those found to be engaged in it should be punished adequately. There are those who believe that rapists should be killed. While I agree that all those who are found to have been engaged in rape, especially those of them who rape their victims to death should also die, I believe they should even be made to die in phases. They should be alive to see themselves dying. They should not just be killed; they should be killed in phases. People give all kinds of reasons to justify rape, but there is no reason good enough to justify your decision to rape babies, teenagers or anybody for that matter. I will align myself with my colleagues in the fight against rape and will give support to all those who are fighting to see an end to this regime of rape.
What is your take on the factionalisation of your party in your state?
There is nothing like factions in my party in Cross River. While it may be true that some people tried to cause division in the party in the party, as we speak, there is nothing like division anymore. The court of appeal has settled the matter of leadership of our party in Cross River State. The National Working Committee of our party has also taken a follow-up action on this by recognising the late Dr Achigbe Exco, which had Hon John Ochala as deputy and by reason of the death of Achigbe, Ochala stepped in as acting chairman of the party. So, there is no other leadership. You see, wherever you have many people, just like you had Judas in the Bible, you will always have people with tendencies to steal, kill or destroy. But the truth will always be constant and like I said, the truth has been made public. Our party is one and will remain one. Don’t live in the past anymore. That matter has been settled.